Carter G. Woodson believed that young African Americans in the early 20th century were not being taught enough of their heritage, and the achievements of their ancestors. To get his message out, Woodson first turned to his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, which created Negro History and Literature Week in 1924. But Woodson wanted a wider celebration, and he decided the ASNLH should take on the task itself.

In February 1926, Woodson sent out a press release announcing the first Negro History Week. He chose February because the month contained the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two prominent men whose historic achievements African Americans already celebrated. Lincoln’s birthday was February 12 and Douglass, a former slave hadn’t known his actual birthday, but had marked the occasion on February 14


Malcolm X


Malcolm X was an activist and minister who spoke passionately to encourage people to fight racism "by any means necessary". He changed his last name to X in rejection of his slave name. His legacy remains in the African Union, originally the Organization of Afro-American Unity, founded by him. The third Friday of May is celebrated in remembrance of him as Malcolm X day.

John Lewis


Ever since his childhood, John Lewis had participated in sit-ins and Freedom Rides, protesting segregated areas. He also led the Selma to Montgomery march, also known as "Bloody Sunday". Lewis later headed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helped register African American voters. He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the John F. Kennedy "Profile in Courage Award" for Lifetime Achievement.

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Martin Luther King Jr. was an African American baptist known for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement of 1955. His famous “I Have a Dream” speech was a turning point in the fight for rights of African Americans. He was assassinated in 1968 but later posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Claudette Colvin

1939 - present

As a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white man, defying the Jim Crow laws that chained African Americans.

Rosa Parks

1913 - 2005

Best known for her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man, Rosa Parks was one of the most prominent female figures of the civil rights movement. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. As a member of the NAACP, she helped uncover the extent and violent nature of discrimination throughout her state. She is an awardee of the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

Emmet Till

1941 - 1955

Emmet Till was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the U.S. Till posthumously became an icon of the civil rights movement. His mother decided to hold an open casket funeral to bring attention to racism and discrimination in the U.S; tens of thousands attended.